The Spiritual Discipline of Curiosity

This summer as I connected with my team, I was anticipating so many feelings and potential frustrations at what this school year might look like. My sweet Assistant Resident Director is a senior this year, and before I spoke with her on the phone I told my husband, “I just wouldn’t even be surprised if she wants to quit and not come to school this year.” Not because we are doing anything more extreme than any other college, but just because in every way and every area of life, things are just not what they should be. We can all agree that a student’s experience this year is vastly different than what it has been and what we would all like it to be.

But then she surprised me by giving this simple response: “I’m just really curious what this year will look like!”

Immediately I was convicted, having expected disappointment and frustration — and being met with hope and expectation instead. 

And just that simply, she offered a vision and a posture that I am trying to embody and to pass along to others for life right now. It inspired the question: What would it look like to practice curiosity this year?

At my best, I am thrilled about this option. At my worst, it feels like too much work.

Curiosity is the much more hopeful, eager cousin of doubt. Curiosity is humble, hopeful, and a much healthier avenue for hard conversations.

When we live in the posture of doubt, we have pretty much chosen our stance. We act sure about everything (one of my social media pet peeves: everyone is so SURE of EVERYTHING. But that is a rant for another day). Choosing to believe that things will surely be bad is fatalist and altogether unhelpful. Choosing curiosity leaves it open — sure, things could be terrible, but they also might be great, or anywhere in between.

Curiosity demonstrates humility; when we are curious, we are admitting that there is something we do not know. We live in a world where that is such a rare posture to take, but it is so refreshing. It allows the freedom to be wrong and the ability to learn. 

I am trying to practice curiosity in many areas of life. One is in tricky conversations. When I am frustrated, it would be easy to point the finger and ask, “Why are you doing it that way/why did you say that thing/why are you the worst person ever?” But curiosity lays the groundwork for an equal conversation, one where we are, again, able to be wrong or to learn. When we start a conversation on the offense, we naturally put the other person in a defensive stance. We almost don’t give them a choice. But when we approach them in a state of wonder, practicing curiosity, we allow them room to explain and understand. Next time you need to have a hard conversation, try starting with this: “Hey, I’m curious why/how/what…” and see where it leads. 

I think Jesus practiced curiosity by asking questions all the time. Even when he frustrated people, he invited them into learning. He did not just give answers but asked them to think more deeply about things. Like any good teacher, he was helping people learn how to think instead of just what to think. Even with Mary in the Garden, the angels didn’t just reveal what was happening right away but asked her to engage, to practice curiosity: Why are you crying? Why do you look for the living among the dead?

This practice has already been a game-changer for me in so many ways. It is a new posture, one that leaves me open to what God is doing and is going to do. Instead of constantly being positive that circumstances or relationships will continue to be only hard, there is space for surprises and celebration. The other morning I wrote in my journal about how hard it feels to practice this; if I am honest I would rather just let things be difficult and mope about it. But I wrote it out: What does it look like to be curious about this student situation or this COVID policy…and so on. And guess what? Throughout my day things actually were better than I had expected. It is humbling to come face to face with our own limitations and the ways in which we assume the worst. 

Life with Jesus gets to be curious. It gets to be surprising and more hopeful than what we could have expected. Life without Him is difficult and futile and hopeless. He leads us in curiosity, inviting us into asking, “What is God doing here? And how can I partner with Him in it?” I believe that the Lord rewards people who engage in that way, if only in expanding our worldview. A person who is unwilling to wonder or see another way will be stuck forever in their thinking. 

So in this very weird and often discouraging season of life, I am attempting to practice curiosity as a spiritual discipline and I invite you to try it with me. There is hope, there is a future, there are better days ahead. We can live with curiosity and because we are following Jesus, we will ultimately experience beauty and redemption and “all things new.” 

Curiosity opens us up to a world of new possibilities, ideas, and outcomes — don’t we all need that right now?

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I write to process, and sometimes send those thoughts out into the void. Passionate about Jesus and people and bringing those two together. Living in and loving Denver. Working with college students, who are the coolest. Seeking Jesus and JOY in everything.

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